And really, when you think about it, what better way to mark the tenth anniversary of one of the biggest man-made catastrophes of modern times than by creating another one?
That nice Rupert Goold and his Headlong company and the National Theatre have conspired to create Decade, a response to 9/11. A large space in Commodity Quay at St Katharine Docks has been quite cleverly converted (take a bow Frau Buether) into Windows On The World, the restaurant at the top of the twin towers which was quite swanky judging by the £6-a-glass-for-a-red-wine-prices. Given the effort that has gone into its creation one might expect the spectacular “views” out of the huge vertical windows at each end of the room to look as if though were taken from the World Trade Centre rather than say, The Rockefeller Centre, but presumably there are practical considerations there.
Anyway, before being shown to their tables the punters pass through metal detectors and some are subjected to an interview. The Whingers were spared interrogation, presumably as it was obvious that we have nothing of interest to say. There was a poster warning against taking snow globes in so we weren’t entirely clear whether we were meant to be taking this seriously or having fun. Either way we failed to make any sense of this tacky preamble.
The audience is shown to cabaret style tables or sat in booths and actors fuss around pretending they are waiters and waitresses (the ones not pretending to be immigration officials anyway). There is a big oval stage in the middle plus stages at either end (reminiscent of Earthquakes in London).
Decade is the result of many, many writers being invited to pen factual and fictional responses to the event. Greenland and A Thousand Stars... were child’s play compared with this: everyone and his dog seems to have had a hand in it Samuel Adamson, Mike Bartlett, Alecky Blythe, Ben Ellis (he came to one of our parties once!), DC Moore and even the telly historian Simon Schama.
19 of them! Who wrote what isn’t clear but then nor is the writing. One possible explanation as to how they managed to cut this down from its original three and a half hours is that they simply cut the beginning and the end of some of the sketches and the middles out of the rest.
There was a balloon and a cross woman shedding eczema flakes (a theatrical first for us – flaky skin as semiotic indicator), then someone else rode a bicycle (something Phil is considering adding to his ever expanding list of theatrical bêtes noires). According to the programme it was “exhilarating, provocative and spectacular” but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at the faces of the audience. One man had his head on the table.
Andrew’s only consolation was that his discomfort was vastly outweighed by that of the cast who were called upon to do some embarrassing dancing (which Phil quite liked but then have you seen Phil’s dancing?).
If the tragedy of 9/11 taught us anything it’s that life is short. Certainly too short to spend it sitting through Decade.